Why We Need to Fund Libraries 3/3

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If you haven’t visited a library in years, you might think nobody goes to libraries any more. Well, you’re wrong. In the time it takes to read this entire sentence, 40 people have visited a library in the UK.

You might not need a library today, or tomorrow, or for years. But that doesn’t mean you don’t want one in your community. Because like a hospital, or a second bridge over the Bristol Channel to Wales, or the police – one day you might need it. And when you do, just like you’d need those other things, you’ll really, really need a library. Someone else in your community needs one like that today. 

Libraries are often used by people who are in transition from one thing to another. People who are in between being born and going to school use the library for stimulation and to begin to understand book-based culture for the world of learning. Older children, learning to work independently, use the library for help finding valid references for essays. People looking for new courses or careers use the resources of the library. People who are in a new town, finding out more about their past, recovering from illness, spending hours alone in old age…all these people regularly use the library.

Where else can you go that costs nothing and always welcomes you? Where you can not only be entertained and distracted from what ever problems you are facing, but also get reliable information on solving those problems?  I said in a previous post that a library is the intellectual hub of a community – sometimes people very much need the access to knowledge it contains. And more than that, they need to be physically inside a place that celebrates and collects the fruits of human struggle – they need the companionship that place brings to their own situation. Because a library is also a place personal difficulties are recognised and normalised.

But that’s not to say that libraries are only warm and fluffy. They’re also a good investment. Libraries pay great finaincial dividends. The young people using the wifi and quiet they can’t get at home will get better exam results. People in need will recover from their problems more quickly and contribute once more to the economy. Companies thinking about locating in the area look for libraries as a marker of the quality of potential employees. Children with access to books in the home attain much better in school than children without. In pounds and pence, as well as in hearts and minds, a library has a value that is nearly impossible to overestimate.

That’s why we need to fund libraries.

A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.

Andrew Carnegie

 

 

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Why We Need To Fund Libraries 1/3

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Let’s start with the basics. What is a library?

A library is not a collection of books. Above you’ll see why it’s not. This is The Ship’s library. The Ship is my local pub and this is their book corner. It started off well, but in the three years I’ve been…erm…monitoring it every Friday evening (with a pint or two), it’s gone right downhill.  All that’s left is old tat.

That’s because there’s no librarian. Any fool can bring books onto a shelf – any fool can buy all the latest books the reviewers say are good and stack them in alphabetical and Dewey Decimal order. But librarians don’t just know how to do that…they also know what to throw away.

Librarians are trained to curate information; trained to gather information (yes) but also to evaluate it, decide if it’s still valid and get rid of the bad stuff. They’re Snopes  in real life. Only they don’t just evaluate the worth of internet memes and rumours and fake news…they can monitor and evaluate EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION ON THE PLANET. They can also store it, manipulate it, find it, file it, retrieve it and archive it and will know when to do all those things.

Let’s look at another example: A friend of mine was at the dump/tip the other day and saved a first edition of George Orwell’s 1984 from going in, not even the book bin (which gets picked over by charity shops) but the paper recycling.

Librarians also know what to keep.

Libraries aren’t stacks of books: they’re the repository of a society’s knowledge. In good libraries, everything on the shelves is of worth; good fiction, up-to-date and verified non-fiction, poetry worth reading, how-to books that actually teach you how to do something, reference materials that are collections of the latest and best thought humanity has to offer.

They’re the intellectual hub of our communities and librarians are their maintenance crew. Trying to have one without the other is like trying to run an airline without any mechanics. The planes might look very pretty. But I wouldn’t like to fly in one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actual Glamour

For the last two years, I’ve come onto this page, posted something (usually moaning about writers’ money) and promised to post regularly.  Then I’ve disappeared again…for months at a time.

I have shame.

But the fact is, things are going well. My books are being reviewed and are actually selling (I got a royalty cheque – I thought they were fictitious). I’ve got a new job…I’m now Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol…and I wrote a new book over the summer.

In the photos, you can see me hanging out in Soho, signing a stack of Coyote Summer at the Bristol Waterstones and attending my last graduation at Bath Spa University in my doctoral robes from the University of the West of England. (In case you didn’t know, your official academic robes are decided by the last place that awarded you a degree. Academics spend all their time at graduation examining each other’s robes and talking about the ones they like, wishing they’d thought about this when they’d decided where to do their PhD.)

And then there’s the photo of the most glamorous thing of all – hanging out with eminent children’s authors and discussing how to help families re-wild themselves using our narratives. Julia Green, Gill Lewis, Nicola Davies and Jackie Morris were there as we discussed the #mywildworld initiative… and I even got to meet Karin Celestine and her wee felted animals. There’s a chance that some of these authors may come onto this blog and talk about their glamorous literary lives soon.

But let’s keep it real. I spent my summer holiday mainly at the tip as my hoarding family finally decided to declutter. I wrote my book so quickly because I had a stomach bug and was pretty much tied to my bed and the loo for two weeks. My royalty cheque is going to  stop my shower from leaking through the kitchen ceiling. Then it will go towards repairing my kitchen from the deluge.

I’m still not rich and I’m still not famous. But I do love my literary life. And it is, sometimes, actually glamorous…

Writing the Magic

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Books may be the only true magic.

Alice Hoffman

The last time I wrote, I wanted to explain that even successful books, don’t, for most people, make a great deal of money. I intended to follow that up with another post, about how satisfying the writing life actually is, despite the fact it doesn’t make you rich…but my day job got very busy and I never had the chance.

I’m actually quite good at making money. I could make a great deal more if I wanted. I’ve got four business ideas right now, for where I currently live and the capital I’ve got available.

But instead, I continually decide to keep spending my time making magic.

Right now, I’m writing a timeless story as true as stone. It feels as if I’ve heard it before, a hundred times, as if I heard it as I went to sleep every night for a thousand years…but it’s really brand new. My characters – a feckless dreamer of a poor boy and a spoilt brat of a rich girl – are stereotypes…but you’ve never met these extraordinary people before.

Their incredible journey of love and hope and their impossible love is inspired by the true story of my engagement ring. Andy and I found this ring at an antique stall in The Angel, Islington in North London. We sent the money back to friends in London, who bought it for us and posted it to Yellowstone National Park. In Bozeman, Montana, we found the stone had been substituted with glass. In my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, Goldmaker’s Jewellers cut another stone to fit the setting.

The stone was lovely, but kept falling out because the Edwardian setting had poorly-made prongs. In Bond Street, back in London six years later, Andy had the shank of the ring mended and sorted out the prongs that held the stone, as well. He also had assay marks put in.

Ten years after that, it was stolen from our tent as we slept with our four-year-old daughter, twenty miles from Paris, France. The thieves were Eastern European youngsters, exploited by an Italian gang-master.

The insurance provided another ring. I hated it. I sold it and bought a new garden shed with the money and got another vintage ring. The stone fell out of that one and was lost forever. The insurance gave us more money…I bought a silver one. I didn’t like it, either.

For seven years, I kept an Ebay search running. Every once in a while, I would look for my ring. And one day, I saw it.

I phoned Andy. We had very little money at the time, but he said, ‘Buy it. Buy it right now.’ I did. That’s when I discovered it was in Stroud, a town about twenty miles away from where we live. I felt like it had been trying to come home.

Still, I couldn’t quite believe it when I opened the box. But yes, there was the chip on the side from rock climbing in the Tetons. There were the ever-so-slightly wonky prongs. It was my ring. Impossible. But true.

So, Alice Hoffman was both right and wrong. Writers do make magic when we sit down and create a story. But that’s not the only magic in the world. There is magic all around us in love and hope and improbable kindness and coincidence and happenstance and…and it’s all as true as a blue-stoned ring.